When asked to estimate how much time had elapsed during 30-sand 60-s intervals, suicidal patients overestimated the amount of time that had passed (Neuringer & Harris, 1974). In contrast,control participants estimated the time intervals fairly accurately.Several other studies found similar results (e.g., Blewett, 1992;Brockopp & Lester, 1970; Greaves, 1971; Tysk, 1984; Wyrick &Wyrick, 1977).Time perception can be distorted in either direction, of course.Under some circumstances, people may underestimate time inter-vals. The
state identified by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) istypically described as a loss of the sense of the passage of time, sothat people in flow are often surprised to discover how late it hasgrown while they were immersed in their activities. Flow is theopposite of deconstructed numbness, even though both can bedescribed as some kind of immersion in the present. In flow,awareness is absorbed in some deeply satisfying activity, and soeach moment is rich. In deconstruction, the present serves as anescape from meaningful activity, and so it is experienced asrelatively empty, even oppressively boring. The two states haveopposite effects: Someone in flow finds that time flies, whereassomeone in a deconstructed state finds that time drags.Hence, we predicted that social exclusion should distort theperception of time flow in the same way that deconstruction does.That is, excluded individuals should overestimate the duration of experimentally controlled intervals. In that way, they would re-semble severely bored people for whom time drags by slowly. Theopposite distortion, in which they would underestimate the dura-tion of intervals, is more characteristic of meaningful absorption instimulating activity, and that seemed very unlikely among sociallyexcluded individuals.
The deconstructed state also includes a tendency to reject mean-ing and higher order explanations. Suicidal people are cognitivelyrigid and use a narrow perspective as a way to cope with theirsituation (Baumeister, 1990). In addition, they see little meaning inlife and believe that life is not worth living. One study found aconnection between suicidal tendencies and lack of perceivedmeaning in life (Edwards & Holden, 2001). Rogers (2001) hasasserted that a failure to create meaning underlies most suicideattempts. Social exclusion may produce a similar mental state, asa present or future without close relationships may seem mean-ingless. K. D. Williams (2001) theorized that ostracism threatensmeaningful existence because being ignored by others simulatesthe invisibility and worthlessness of death (pp. 63
64). Acrossseveral studies, K. D. Williams and his colleagues found thatostracized people reported that their sense of meaningful existencehad been threatened (K. D. Williams, Bernieri, Faulkner, Grahe, &Gada-Jain, 2000; K. D. Williams et al., 2002; K. D. Williams,Shore, & Grahe, 1998).Meaningful thought is an important basis for self-awareness andemotion, as these depend on interpreting one
s current situationand comparing it with standards. Rejection may threaten meaning-fulness because it strikes a blow against one
s anticipated futurelife as surrounded with friends and family. At a simpler level,meaningful thought may be aversive in the wake of rejectionbecause the person is tempted to ask why he or she was rejected,and many possible answers would reflect badly on the self. Evad-ing meaningful thought is therefore important for the strategy of warding off aversive self-awareness and emotional distress.In the present investigation, we included a brief measure of perceived meaningfulness of life, and we predicted that socialexclusion
even a laboratory manipulation that was separate fromall the meaningful aspects of the person
s life outside the labora-tory
would cause participants to shift toward perceiving lessmeaning in their lives.
Suicidal people often display chronic passivity and lethargy,which constitute another characteristic of the deconstructed state.Suicide notes often express acceptance and passive submission(Henken, 1976), and suicidal patients are generally more passive(Gerber, Nehemkis, Farberow, & Williams, 1981; Mehrabian &Weinstein, 1985). These patients also exhibit an external locus of control and thus perceive personal action as unnecessary, becausethey feel their fate is out of their hands (Gerber et al., 1981; Melges& Weisz, 1971; Topol & Reznikoff, 1982). As Baumeister (1990)observed, passivity further enables those in the deconstructed stateto escape from self-awareness.In addition, passivity and lethargy may result from the decon-structed state because many actions and decisions require mean-ingful thought, which is aversive in the wake of rejection. That is,a rejected person may minimize emotional distress by avoidingmeaning, but the basis for intelligent and planful action is under-mined as well. (Impulsive or aimless activity, automatic responses,and simple compliance with clear external demands would not beprevented, however, because these do not require meaningfulchoice.) Moreover, self-conscious action tends to implicate the self as a responsible agent, so people who wish to avoid self-awarenessmay shun such action. As noted above, social ostracism leads tolethargic behavior (K. D. Williams, 2001), although up to nowthose reports have been anecdotal. In the present investigation, wemeasured lethargy during a writing task and a reaction-time task.
Lack of Emotion
Presuicidal individuals tend to report an absence of emotion(e.g., Geller & Atkins, 1978; J. M. Williams & Broadbent, 1986),which at first seems counterintuitive. After all, if one is not upset,why try to kill oneself? Baumeister (1990) proposed that thepresuicidal state is actually accompanied by defensive efforts toshut down one
s emotional responses to avoid the acute distressthat might accompany meaningful thought about one
s circum-stances, which for presuicidal people are often quite negative.As already indicated, the lack of emotion observed in ourprevious studies of social exclusion (e.g., Baumeister et al., 2002;Twenge et al., 2001, 2002) came as a surprise and prompted us torevise our assumptions about what mediates the behavioral effectsof thwarting the need to belong. We were reluctant to conclude thatthe lack of emotion meant that participants were fully indifferent tothe manipulations of social rejection and exclusion. Instead, webegan to think that they entered into the deconstructed state as away of warding off emotion and defending themselves againstnegative affect.A simpler explanation for the lack of self-reported emotion inour studies is that participants have simply been reluctant to admit
EXCLUSION AND DECONSTRUCTION